The article on the men's drop-in shelter at Grace Episcopal Church was a sober look at the problems faced by the homeless and those who try to help ("Bleak House," 2/12/10). Joe Tarr gives an honest description of what he encountered during his night there without any attempt to dramatize what is a depressing situation. He reports on spartan conditions in a church basement and not very appealing food. He says he was told about theft and reports the dreary but clean conditions.
The staff doesn't appear to have time for counseling, only to manage a place to keep people alive overnight. Some complain about not letting a man with a contagious condition in; others worry about getting lice or infections there. A manager who deals with this every night sometimes gets angry when dealing with a difficult person.
All in all, it sounds like a thankless job that Porchlight and Grace Episcopal have undertaken. It also sounds like they could use more support.
It is disheartening to see people create negative attention on an organization that has been around for over 25 years helping homeless people in need.
Porchlight Inc. has more than 1,500 volunteers from over 70 different organizations and churches who do this service work with compassion and care. The shelter staff are dedicated people who take pride in the jobs they do.
The Drop-In Shelter at Grace Episcopal Church is sanitized daily, bedding washed and maintenance done regularly, and hot food provided twice daily by volunteers. It is not a beautiful space, but it is warm, clean and safe. The men's dorm was recently repainted, and there have been no recent outbreaks of diseases there.
Shelter manager Jim Willis asks guests to respect the shelter and its rules. Some guests are addicted, mentally ill or intoxicated. His job is not easy, but he has given years of his life to helping the homeless.
I would ask Isthmus and other publications to report on Porchlight's successes. We had a packed house at the Alliant Center last November for our yearly banquet, hearing the stories of people who were helped by Porchlight Inc. and are now living successful lives.
Area individuals, organizations and businesses will continue to support Porchlight because we know what it does works!
Janie Lynaugh, Porchlight volunteer
Reporter Joe Tarr must have been shocked, I mean really shocked, to discover that a homeless shelter can be a pretty bleak place to spend the night. Who'd have thunk it?
After deploring the practice by some journalists of spending a night at a shelter to gather information, he proceeded to do just that. He then recounts a litany of grievances, mostly anonymous, usually with an introductory clause like "I'd been hearing stories for months..." and "Several people have told me...."
The only bit of objective data appears at the bottom of a sidebar: "Percentage of shelter guests who said they were treated professionally by shelter staff: 91."
I've worked as a volunteer food provider-server at the shelter several times a year for the past 10 years. The vast majority of guests appear pleased with the services they receive. The staff has, with only rare exceptions, acted fairly and respectfully.
Is there room for improvement? Of course. But that takes money.
I have volunteered for the Porchlight Partners organization on a handful of occasions and have also donated money. I was extremely disappointed in the article. I feel you took a serious problem - homelessness - and inappropriately disparaged an organization that actually does something about it.
Instead of focusing on the great programs Porchlight offers, all the people it's helped, or the tireless work that all of its employees and/or volunteers put forth, Joe Tarr seemed intensely focused on publishing an article that was anything but balanced.
Thank you for delving into the issue of homelessness in Madison. As I read through the article, I repeatedly found myself nodding my head in agreement.
I worked for the shelter for a brief time and quit in large part due to the hostile work environment I encountered. I wasn't surprised by the negative interactions I had with some clients; it was my interactions with staff and their treatment of the clients that was truly shocking.
In my short time with Porchlight, I saw some of the very best and the very worst that society has to offer. The employees, including Jim Willis, have been known to go above and beyond to assist those who are making an honest effort to get themselves off the street.
But I also saw staff engaging in shouting matches with clients and employees mocking cultural differences between themselves and guests. There is a fine line between running a tight ship and being authoritarian and insensitive. In my opinion, that line was too frequently crossed at the shelter.
Erin M. Perkins, Milwaukee
I enjoyed your article on Grace's emergency shelter, but it neglected to mention that these men are receiving medical care. I currently volunteer through a group called MeDIC, in which UW students and physicians provide health-care services at this and other sites. We treat the men for health problems and try to connect them with health services throughout the city.
The shelter at Grace, like MeDIC, is limited in what it can do due to limited resources.
James Jacob Enser
I am appalled that people are forced out of the homeless shelter by 8 a.m. with no place to go, and not allowed back on the property until evening, and have to wait outside in the cold. This is stupid, as is having a 60-day restriction on staying there. They should be able to stay there as long as necessary until they get into affordable housing and find a job.
Two clarifications and one point about your article:
1. It is the greater Madison community that provides the church basement and dribbles the money to Porchlight. If Porchlight is doing an inadequate job, it is because the community does not provide adequate resources.
2. People are changed through relationships. Until we get close enough to experience the splendor amid the unpleasantness of the homeless, we will continue to see them as "other" and a problem. Compassion and perseverance is what it takes.
Most people who find themselves homeless have a high school education and want to pay taxes once again. They need someone to listen to and walk with them. In short, they need friends.
Glen Hall Reichelderfer
Milking the subject
Jeff Mackey's propaganda against milk (Letters, 2/12/10) is hilarious. His claim that "drinking milk has been linked to obesity, allergies, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even osteoporosis..." is quite unsupported since almost everyone in Wisconsin has been drinking milk throughout their lives. If milk really is "contaminated with cow's blood and pus," as Mackey states, then every time a person drinks milk, he should get sick. However, I do agree that the way cows are treated in big factory farms is simply sick, and we should battle this cruelty.
Karim Barrett, McFarland